COVE FORT Ranchers in southern Utah who have promised to keep cattle off their land for two years in exchange for free seed hope the government's prescription for revegetation will work.
"I'm a little worried that if you stay off for two years, you let the June grass in," Beaver County rancher Mike Yardley said Thursday during a tour of revegetation areas from this summer's 363,000-acre Milford Flat fire.
The fire ravaged Yardley's 4,000 acres. He is one of about a dozen ranchers to receive free seed from the state in the past month.
During the two years state and federal officials believe are necessary for the seeds to take root, the overpopulation of June grass, also called cheat grass, is a possibility. Cheat grass is described as gasoline to wildfires, quickly burning when the plant dries each midsummer.
During the spring, however, cheat grass is tender and cattle will graze upon it. Thursday, Yardley wanted to know why he couldn't allow cattle in revegetation areas most vulnerable to the dreaded cheat grass.
"They're not going to choose only cheat grass," said Harvey Gates, the Bureau of Land Management's operations chief for the fire stabilization team, explaining that the cattle will munch upon the new seedlings, too, pulling roots from the soil.
Yardley said he will follow the terms of the agreement he signed for the free seed, worth about $250,000, because without it he couldn't afford to reseed his entire property. Yardley was required to hire personnel and equipment for reseeding.
The July wildfire was the largest in the state's history. It claimed the lives of two motorcycle riders. A month later, winds kicked up dust and ash and caused a pileup on I-15 that claimed the lives of two more people.
The state provided seeds to cover 26,000 acres of private land in the Milford Flat fire area. A total 202,000 acres of land will be reseeded by a combination of state and federal agencies.
The burnt-out fire area is being reseeded by three methods: chaining, drill discs and imprinting.
Chaining usually begins with the overhead roar of a low-flying single-engine plane that dusts the earth with seeds. Two bulldozers follow.
The bulldozers are tethered by large chain one demonstrated on Thursday weighed 19,000 pounds that keeps them 130-230 feet apart. The chain, which has railroad irons, mows over the earth and forces to the surface pinion-juniper that died in the fire and can prevent erosion if overturned. The drill drops eight pounds of seed an acre.
For lower elevations, tractor drivers tow a set of drills spanning 30 feet wide. The drill sets drop seeds into the ground, which are buried by discs.
Only about 3,000 acres of seeds will be planted into salty soil by an imprinter, a large drum with cleats pulled by a small tractor.
Reseeding will cost $17 million. Fighting the July blaze cost $4 million.
Government officials involved in reseeding acknowledge that cheat grass continues to threaten the area but took the tour to a 10-year-old revegetated area where fire-resistant wheatgrass had overtaken cheat grass, visible in small patches throughout the field.
The government employees have only a few weeks, if not days, left to reseed the area before frost makes tilling the ground impossible. With proper moisture, seedlings pop up in the spring."Everybody, pray for rain," Yardley said. "We need the moisture."
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